Why Catechesis? Pope Benedict Said – For Faith Proposed

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am preparing to teach a course on “Teaching Doctrine in the Church” next term. One question that will obviously come up is – why catechesis? Isn’t it enough that I love Jesus and read my Bible and pray? Leave it to Pope Benedict XVI to bring exquisite clarity and insight to this matter. He shares a story about sending a piece of scholarship to Hans Urs von Balthasar at one point. He received a nice reply from Balthasar, but it included an exhortation: “do not presuppose the faith but propose it.” By that, I take to mean, Balthasar wanted his teaching to be more than mere philosophy or interpretation, but something filled with kerygmatic energy, an invitation to be transformed by the gospel all over again. This was an “aha!” moment for Pope Benedict.

Wide-ranging exploration of new fields was good and necessary, but only so long as it issued from, and was sustained by, the central light of faith. Faith is not maintained automaticaly. It is not a ‘finished business’ that we can simply take for granted. The life of faith has to be constantly renewed. And since faith is an act that comprehends all the dimensions of our existence, it also requires constantly renewed reflection and witness. It follows that the chief points of faith…are never outmoded. They are always the issues that affect us most profoundly. They must be the permanent center of preaching and therefore of theological reflection. The bishops present at the 1985 synod called for a universal catechism of the whole church because they sensed precisely what Balthasar had put into words in his note to me. Their experience as shepherds had shown them that the various new pastoral activities have no solid basis unless they are irradiations and applications of the message of faith. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. This is the purpose of the Catechism. It aims to propose the faith in its fullness and wealth, but also in its unity and simplicity. (The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, p. 211)

Essentially, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Catechism is not meant at all to be something dead we give to the church – quite the opposite, it is the effective way to give life to faith, to energize it for living. This seems to be in tune with Pelikan’s famous adage: “Tradition is the living faith of the death, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”


One thought on “Why Catechesis? Pope Benedict Said – For Faith Proposed

  1. Really great quote! I have really enjoyed your blog since I discovered it over a year ago. I have also been enjoying your book, “Prepare, Succeed, Advance”. I had a question and was trying to find an email to send it, but no success. So I guess I’ll just ask it here.

    I am an MTh student under Desi Alexander at Queen’s University Belfast. Though my longterm goal is a PhD in NT, I purposefully chose to center this degree in the OT (specifically, Exodus) in order to get a foundation there before moving on to the NT. I have been working on my languages, not only for my own personal benefit as a pastor or for my current degree, but with a view to getting into a good PhD program down the road. Do I need to actually have language classes on my transcript when applying to a PhD program, or will it be sufficient to be able to demonstrate my proficiency? At the undergraduate level I had 2 1/2 years of Greek and a year of Hebrew (both of which I have been building on), I have nearly completed Wilson’s “German Quickly”, and I have also commenced studying Sandberg’s “French for Reading”. I would love to take some advanced language classes, but being a part-time pastor as well as studying means that both money and time are precious commodities, so I have been doing my own personal study. However, I am trying to determine how important it will be to have actual languages on my postgraduate transcript. If it is very important, then I would probably look into auditing some advanced Hebrew and Greek classes. I don’t think my particular school has theological German or French.

    I am going to be asking Desi this same question, but I thought it would be good to have a couple perspectives.


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